I have no rational fears. I know that is a somewhat arrogant declaration but it’s entirely true. I don’t fear heights or spiders or elevators or the dark or snakes or germs or tunnels or any of the other fears that people would generally consider normal and founded. But that’s not to say that I don’t have any fears, I do have a few. They are just the irrational, inexplicable and very silly variety. The number between 116 and 118 is one such fear. It’s not based in logic, rationality or common sense; it’s wholly and completely insane and I readily admit to that. The story of why I came to fear this number is complicated yet unremarkable.
It begins around 1988 or 1989, a time when analog television still existed. In fact it was a time where analog television was the only television that existed, and static channels or empty channels or dead channels or white noise if you will, were prevalent throughout the television channel lineup. It was well-known that pretty much every channel above 69 and below 2, were dead. Channel 1 was my absolute nemesis, the one I feared the most.
Now I cannot pin this down to one singular incident, mostly because at the time I was too young to register moments and commit them to memory accordingly. Nevertheless, it was during that time in my early formative years where I became intensely afraid of these dead, static-laden channels. Admittedly I remain afraid of them to this day. Luckily though, with the advent of digital technology, these dead channels of static are becoming a thing of the past, like capitalism and democracy. They have been replaced by a soundless blue screen that I find much more aesthetically pleasing and not nearly as upsetting.
I don’t know exactly why I came to fear the dead channels with their snow and static. I think it was my father’s doing. After all, he was responsible for my fear of certain pool drains and my somewhat later developed fear of black lizards with blue bellies, so it stands to reason he was also responsible for my fear of the dead channels. But I do not assert this with one-hundred percent certainty. He has vehemently denied my accusations in this regard.
Still, I imagine it could have happened something like this. We were sitting on the couch watching television when he made the executive decision to flip the tuner to channel 10. As an aside at this time we only had about four channels, channel 10 being ABC. When he went to switch the channel, something went horribly wrong. While he tried to punch in the 1 and the 0, he accidentally switched their order, a product of dyslexia or perhaps a failure of the remote control buttons. So instead of getting channel 10, we got channel 1, my proclaimed nemesis. The static roared loud and the white and black snow vibrated with utter craziness, a terrifying assault on my young eyes and ears. It was a punishment unfitting of the simple mistake. And from there a fear was born, an irrational fear that twenty some odd years later I have been unable to cure. At least that’s how I imagine it all happened.
My fear in this regard seemed to blossom like a mushroom overnight. I slowly and steadily began to fear everything that was unnatural vis-à-vis the television. By this I mean that I hated the static snow, the blackness, and those bright and vibrant color-bars with their long beeping sounds. Anything that signified the television was malfunctioning in some way scared me to the point where I would refrain from watching altogether. If I did watch, I diligently kept my hand hovering over the power button so that I could turn the television off at the first sign of trouble. That is the way I continue to operate.
Fast forward approximately fifteen years. My irrational fear of dead channels was still alive and thriving in 2005. This was roughly the time where the movie The Ring
was released in the United States. With its little girl beast emerging from the static of a television to scare unsuspecting viewers to death, my fear of the dead channels was heavily reinforced. The movie made me wonder how some random screenwriter was able to get inside my head and discern my deepest, darkest fear without so much as meeting me. And when I finally realized that others might share this so-called irrational fear, I found the idea quite comforting. Maybe it was not as unfounded as I had been led to believe.
Now it might be unclear at this point what channel 1 and the other dead channels possibly have to do with the number between 116 and 118. However it is probably quite obvious that it has something to do with the channel with that particular numerical designation. Well it does. I was flipping through the channels one day in 2005 when I came upon an unusual channel. It was inarguably strange, blacker than night with a white graph superimposed. The line of the graph moved around with jerky, almost breathing type motions. It was reminiscent of a heartbeat monitor, although it was anything but magnificent. And while the snow of the dead channels was thankfully absent, the familiar and scary static sound was present and louder than ever.
I began associating the weird graph channel with the scariness of channel 1 and all the other dead channels that I had come to fear over the years. And as the reader might have logically deduced by now, the channel with the weird graph was none other than the number between 116 and 118. So my fear and loathing of the number grew naturally from there. In a lot of ways it was worse than channel 1, which by this time had turned into the ‘On Demand’ channel (don’t get me started). But it was worse than channel 1 because it was a modern day channel 1. While the static channels had all but disappeared, transformed into non-threatening blue screens for the most part, this static-filled, heartbeat graph channel had found some kind of digital loophole. It was coming through my television bringing loud and frenzied static, something that by all accounts should have been eradicated at the turn of the millennium.
Accordingly, I now hate channel 117 in the same vein and with the same amount of passion that I hate channel 1. But unlike channel 1, which had pretty much been relegated to the land of television, the number between 116 and 118 had found a way to escape the digital realm. It had broken free of its digital television shackles and entered the real world with only one true intent: to harass me incessantly. And it has enjoyed mild success thus far. Every time the clock reads 1:17, be it am or pm, I feel a sense of fear, the irrational hostility that only something evil can create within you. And though I haven’t laid eyes on the channel itself in years, I am constantly reminded of it, at least twice a day, sometimes more.
It doesn’t sit well, on its own or in my head. I wish I could petition to remove it from the clock, from time in general, though I know I’d be met with a bit of resistance. So for now I must resolve to ignore it, purposefully look the other way for the two minutes surrounding 1:16. Of course there is no avoiding evil completely; there are days where I happen upon the number, be it on the clock, as part of someone’s address, on the treadmill while I’m exercising, on January 17th, or what have you. The ways in which it can plague my life are unfortunately infinite. It’s impossible to completely escape; this story here is my reluctant acceptance of that fact.
To this day, well into my mid-twenties, I fear all the many television abnormalities. As my roommate could easily attest to, even the far less menacing color-bars make me incredibly uneasy. While the snow and static from the dead channels has all but been eradicated in this digital age, new, related fears have been forged. Presently, it’s the EAS or Emergency Alert System that is wreaking havoc on my life. Without warning, my digital cable box will freeze and immediately change the channel, without my consent by the way, to this terrifying black and white EAS test screen. And that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is the noise, not static but a frighteningly loud siren that could easily chill your very bones.
I remember one day I was innocently filling the bowl of my bong, looking forward to a nice and relaxing afternoon when all of a sudden my television started emitting this high-pitched, completely abhorrent siren. It was more like an incessant shrieking than anything else. At first I thought there was a fire or someone was breaking into my apartment, but it ended up being worse than that. I turned around and realized that it was the EAS screen on my television making the sound. Ever since that day, I’ve been especially careful and diligent in my monitoring of the cable box. I won’t be caught unaware again; it could be a heart attack in the making.
In sum I cannot be certain what would be worse: lying in a coffin filled with live black lizards, or being tied to a chair and forced to watch and endure and listen to channel 117. Though my tendency is to aver that subjection to channel 117 would be the far less traumatizing choice, I’m honestly not sure if that is indeed the case. When it comes to the ‘would you rather’ game, my predisposition is always to go for hidden Option C, death, even though I know that it’s the cheaters’ recourse. I suppose the only thing I can really do at this point is continue living my life and hope that my destiny doesn’t come down to a choice between poison and a dagger.